Supporting Cast

Captain Sir Edward Grey

A Villain For GURPS Swashbucklers

by Mark Gellis


The 1660s and 1670s were a dynamic period in England. Only two years after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, King Charles II had returned from exile. The monarchy had been restored. The oppression of the Protectorate had been swept away. The playhouses were open again and Londoners enjoyed comedies like Wycherley's The Country Wife and tragedies like Dryden's All for Love. (Charles II was especially fond of the theater because it was one of the places he went shopping for mistresses.) But the reign of Charles II was also a time of danger and intrigue. Parliament was often uncooperative. Religious and political tensions at home and abroad led to espionage, rivalries in court, and secret alliances. Plague struck the nation in 1665 and fire destroyed part of London in 1666. All the while, the great lords of the nation plotted to advance their own interests.

One of the most cunning of these lords was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley during the 1660s and eventually Earl of Shaftesbury. Considered one of the consummate politicians of his time, Shaftesbury was often part of the inner circle advising Charles II. Later in life, he became one of the King's most powerful political adversaries, a man whose "loyal opposition" was more often opposition than loyal. A man like Shaftesbury could not do everything on his own, of course, and one of his most dangerous agents was Captain Sir Edward Grey.


Grey was born in 1630 in London, the son of a wealthy London merchant. His family managed to ride out the troubles of the Civil War with their fortunes mostly intact. In 1647, Parliament was in control of the country and Grey decided to cast his lot with the winning side. He joined the cavalry and two years later found himself in Ireland helping Cromwell crush resistance to Parliament, keeping the island from serving as a staging point from which the young Charles II could launch an invasion. During the campaign, Grey distinguished himself with his abilities as a soldier, and at Drogheda and Wexford with his willingness to put Catholics to the sword. By 1652, he had been placed in command of an entire company.

The end of the Irish campaign left Grey with little to do. He had been given an Irish estate as a reward for his service to Cromwell, but was uninterested in running it and left its management in the hands of one of his cousins. The rents from the estate provided him with an independent income and he returned to England. He then became acquainted with John Thurloe, who ran Cromwell's espionage network (Cromwell was plagued throughout the 1650s by monarchists trying to restore Charles II to the throne) and who was perhaps the second most powerful man in England at the time. Grey completed various missions for Thurloe during the 1650s. He did not need the money, but he found the work interesting. He became especially adept as convincing people that they could trust him, getting them to admit involvement in either secret or criminal activities, and at interrogating prisoners.

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died and Edward Grey saw that it was only a matter of time before Charles II was restored to the throne. He began secretly making contact with royalists and was able to assist Anthony Cooper (not yet Baron Ashley or the Earl of Shaftesbury) in some of his efforts during the Restoration. Cooper recognized Grey's talents and made a point of cultivating him as an agent. In 1661, Anthony Cooper was a privy councilor and the King had made him Baron Ashley; on the baron's advice, Charles knighted Edward Grey the following year.

Grey spent the next 20 years working for Ashley. These were the best years of his life. He was respected and wealthy, had powerful friends, and was popular at court. He enjoyed the attention of beautiful women, and over the years took a number of them as his lovers. Most enjoyable of all, Ashley's constant intrigues gave him the opportunity to seduce people, to learn their secrets and manipulate them, and to force information or admissions of guilt out of spies and other enemies. He was also often asked to find, arrest, and interrogate individuals involved in criminal or seditious activities. This is especially true when Ashley became part of the Cabal government in the late 1660s and early 1670s; Ashley continued to reward Grey for his services. In 1672, when Ashley becomes the Earl of Shaftesbury and lord chancellor, he used his influence with the King to have Grey made a baronet. Shaftesbury fell from favor in 1673, but Grey continued to work for him because even in Opposition the Earl is a powerful man.

What happened to Grey? Grey is a completely fictional character, so the GM can have him meet whatever end suits a campaign. Assuming he is not killed or utterly disgraced by one of the PCs in a campaign, however, he is likely to live to a ripe old age, and his obvious talent will attract the attention of some new patron after the final disgrace and death of Shaftesbury in the 1680s. Eventually, Grey would retire from "active" duties, but he might remain a force to be reckoned with, possibly appearing during the reign of William of Orange as a sheriff or mayor of some town, or a spymaster for the King. In this capacity, it is possible he could remain active as late as the reign of Queen Anne.

What makes Grey a villain instead of a hero are his motives and his methods. He is selfish, ultimately loyal only to himself. Furthermore, while he works for Shaftesbury (or anyone else, for that matter) he is ruthless and capable of deceit, treachery, and brutality. On the surface, he is simply another charming courtier, but this is a facade. He enjoys deceiving people, learning their secrets, and then using that knowledge against them. He particularly enjoys seducing women and getting them to betray their lovers, friends, or families. He is, of course, careful to make sure that his victims do not realize they have been betrayed until it is too late to do anything about it (which means he may keep up a false front with someone for months or years). He is also a sadist who enjoys interrogating prisoners or disposing of those who are deemed either too dangerous to live or simply no longer valuable; he is perfectly willing to use torture or other violent means to break someone's will. He enjoys hurting people. He enjoys seeing the helpless fear in their eyes. Despite all this, if Grey has no reason to harm someone, he usually does not go out of his way to do so. However, once he sees someone as an object to conquer or an obstacle to his plans, he is capable of anything.

Using Edward Grey In A Campaign

Grey serves Ashley (later Shaftesbury), first and foremost, as an agent promoting his patron's interests and a spy who can identify and, if need be, eliminate his enemies. At times, Ashley will be working to complete some mission for Charles II and Grey is effectively an agent of the King; at other times, Ashley is simply working on some scheme of his own and Grey will be careful to make sure that his patron's activities do not come to light.

Intrigue flourished during the reign of Charles II. Charles II began his reign by attempting to institute religious toleration in England, an effort foiled by a Parliament that passed several laws in the early 1660s placing severe restrictions on Dissenters. Ashley himself initially supported religious toleration, but he gradually became suspicious of the King's pro-Catholic sympathies and eventually supported the Test Act (which made it illegal for Catholics to hold military or civil office) in 1673. Charles II dismissed him from his position as lord chancellor the same year, initiating his long period of political opposition to the King.

International relations would have been complicated under the best of circumstances; war, colonial ambitions, and religious hatred during the period made things even worse. England went to war with Holland three times between 1660 and 1680, with somewhat mixed results. During the first war, England gained control of New Amsterdam in 1664, which was promptly renamed New York in honor of the King's brother. In the second war, however, the Dutch dealt the English a humiliating defeat, sailing up the river Medway, destroying a number of ships and capturing the Royal Charles, the pride of the fleet.

In 1668, during a brief period of peace with Holland, Charles II entered into an alliance with Holland and Sweden against France. In 1670, however, he signed a secret treaty with France in which he agreed to assist Louis XIV against the Dutch and Louis XIV promised that if Charles openly joined the Catholic Church he would send him a large sum of money and that if the English rebelled he would send Charles aid in the form of several thousand soldiers.

There was also enormous concern about James, the Duke of York (who was Catholic) because Queen Catherine turned out to be unable to have children, and as time went on it seemed more and more likely that James would inherit the throne when Charles died. (In fact, this is was happened, in 1685, but James II only reigned for three years before being forced to abdicate in favor of his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange.) In 1678, Anglican minister Titus Oates "uncovered" a so-called Popish Plot to assassinate Charles II and place James on the throne; it was later revealed to be a fabrication on the part of Oates, but it brought anti-Catholic feelings among the English to a fever pitch. Shaftesbury, whose Whig party gained control of Parliament in 1679, ruthlessly exploited the situation so he could introduce the Exclusion Act (which would have barred James from becoming King). Shaftesbury favored the King's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, to become heir to the throne. King Charles II dissolved Parliament in 1681 to prevent the Exclusion Act from passing.

During all of this, Grey would have been very active. At court, he would have picked up news and gossip while playing cards and drinking with other gentlemen, and charmed his way into the hearts and beds of fashionable ladies who could provide him with additional information. It is also likely that he would have been actively working to learn the secrets of anyone who could be forced to aid Shaftesbury, such as European spies or Catholics hiding their faith so they could hold public office. He would also have been pleased by any opportunity to interrogate prisoners, especially female ones. Grey would be perfectly willing to interfere with an investigation by anyone else (including agents of the King) if he felt it threatened his efforts or to eliminate the investigators if they threatened either Shaftesbury or himself.

It is also possible that Grey might command a company of cavalry during one of the wars in which England involved itself or during some political crisis (including the alternate universe "what if" scenario where Charles does openly avow Catholicism after signing the secret Treaty of Dover, perhaps after dissolving Parliament in 1681, and England does rise in rebellion against him). In a situation like this, Grey should be treated as having the additional advantages of a large Ally Group, available on 15-, to represent his company of soldiers and Military Rank 4 (Captain). These advantages would only be temporary, of course, but if one wishes to include them to determine the value of the character, they are worth a total of 110 points.

In any campaign involving witchcraft or devil worship (Blood on Satan's Claw is an excellent horror film about devil worship during this period), Grey is exactly the sort of man who might be asked to investigate occult activities, whether or not the people involved can actually use magic or summon demons. Here, the heroes might need to rescue innocent people accused of being witches. One could also run a "Restoration Horror" campaign where the witches could really use magic but still needed the assistance of the player characters. In fact, one could even have a horror campaign where it was actually Shaftesbury who has made a pact with demonic forces and Grey is protecting him from the only people who can expose him . . . the witches!

PCs encountering Grey would probably know very little about him except that he works for Baron Ashley (or the Earl of Shaftesbury, depending on the year of the campaign), that he is popular at court and with the ladies, and that in battle he is a man of both skill and courage. There might be a few dark rumors about him, but nothing that would ruin his reputation. It is, after all, easy to dismiss such rumors as either the result of jealousy on the part of others or, if they can be shown to be true, an unfortunate lapse of judgement on the part of the otherwise charming Sir Edward. Grey himself is always careful to channel his vicious energies in ways that will not wreck his situation, although having him finally slip up in a way that would ruin him might be an important part of a campaign.

If the adventurers have any status themselves, Grey will try to gain their trust and find out what they are up to. If they are without status, he will rely on his servants and contacts to gain information. Then, if it is necessary for him to do so, he will move against them, quite possibly spreading rumors about them or warning the people they are investigating. Grey is never afraid to confront his enemies himself, of course, but he prefers to be subtle, and if he can get someone else to destroy his foes for him he will do so.

Adapting Grey for other campaigns is simple. Shaftesbury makes a good "master villain" for campaigns set during the Restoration because he is a major figure of this period and noted for his political intrigues. This makes him a good patron for Grey. But Grey could just as easily work for some other nobleman (or noblewoman) or for the governor of a European colony like New York or Jamaica. Grey could also easily be adapted to serve as a villain in other periods from the Middle Ages through the Victorian era. He could even be used in a fantasy campaign without needing too many changes. In most cases, a GM would only need to modify his patron, Area Knowledge skills, weapon skills, and personal history to suit the period and locale of the campaign.

The main thing to remember about Grey is that he is a cruel man. The fact that he is a charming, handsome, and seductive villain who is also a formidable fighter will make him a challenging opponent, but it is his cruelty that will make him a memorable one.

Captain Sir Edward Grey In GURPS

Grey is 6'0", 180 lbs., stunningly handsome, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a mustache. He is always well-groomed and well-dressed, usually in dark colors such as black or dark red, and makes a point of using his attire to make himself look fashionable, elegant, and powerful. His weapon, when he goes armed, is either a cavalry saber or a transitional rapier with a cutting edge; he will also have a dagger and a pair of belt pistols (pp. SW35-37). Grey is a pleasant conversationalist, an intelligent gambler, an excellent dancer, and an outstanding swordsman. As if that was not enough, he also has a terrific singing voice.

ST 12 [20]; DX 15 [60]; IQ 12 [20]; HT 13 [30]

Advantages: Ally Group (servants, staff, and thugs, small group, 15-) [30]*, Charisma +2 [10], Combat Reflexes [15], Contact (current mistress or friend at court, Knowledge (Court Gossip)-15) [2], Contact (street thug, Streetwise-15) [2], Contact (tavern owner, Area Knowledge (London)-15) [2], Courtesy Rank (Captain) [4], Fashion Sense [5], Independent Income [5], Legal Enforcement Powers [10]**, Literate (in semi-literate society) [5], Patron (Shaftesbury, very powerful individual, 15-) [45], Status +3 [10]***, Strong Will +2 [8], Very Handsome [25], Voice [10], Wealthy [20]

* Grey has three servants who will arrest, assault, kidnap, or kill people on his orders. All three should be treated as 75-point characters who are capable fighters (Brawling-14, Broadsword-14, and Knife-14); at least one of them will have Shadowing-14 and one of them will have Forgery-14. Beyond this, the GM may design them as necessary.
** only when Ashley (or Shaftesbury) is a minister for the King
*** includes one free level from Wealthy

Disadvantages: Code of Honor (Gentleman) [-10], Duty (to Patron, 12-) [-10], Sadism [-15]

Quirks: Enjoys using people to gain information and advance his own interests [-1], Likes dogs [-1], Likes singing [-1], Patient [-1], Strokes his mustache while thinking [-1]

Skills: Acting-14 [6], Administration-13 [4], Area Knowledge (England)-12 [1], Area Knowledge (London)-13 [2], Black Powder Weapons (Matchlock Musket)-17 [1], Black Powder Weapons (Wheellock Pistol)-17 [1], Brawling-15 [1], Broadsword-16 [4], Carousing-13 [2], Cloak-15 [2], Cryptanalysis-12 [4], Cryptography-11 [2], Dancing-15 [2], Detect Lies-14 [8], Fast-Draw (Sword)-17 [2], First Aid-12 [1], Fencing-16 [4], Gambling-13 [4], Interrogation-15 [8], Intimidation-13 [4], Knife-16 [2], Leadership-14 [2], Merchant-11 [1], Riding (Horse)-16 [4], Savoir-Faire-16 [1], Sex Appeal-20 [1], Singing-16 [2], Streetwise-12 [2], Strategy (Land)-11 [2], Survival (Woodlands)-12 [2], Tactics (Cavalry)-14 [8]*

* skill levels include bonuses from IQ, Appearance, Voice, Charisma, etc.

Languages: English-12 [0]

Total Points: 385


Anyone interested in the Restoration and its politics will find Antonia Fraser's biography of King Charles II, Royal Charles, both useful and interesting.

Article publication date: May 30, 2003

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